I don't like my kid's friend. Can anything be done?
Experts explain when to step in, and when to let it go.
As a mom of four, including twins, Samantha’s dream was to have the house in the neighborhood where all the kids came to hang out. She pictured a front yard strewn with discarded bikes, and her children's friends constantly streaming in and out. Some of those friends, however, have caused her to pump the brakes on being "that house."
Samantha, who asked to not share her last name, tells Yahoo Life that she recently had to bar two of her twins' friends and classmates — another pair of twins — from playing at her house following an incident in which they acted out at the local mall. Her kids think the other twins are "hilarious and so much fun to be around," she says. Samantha finds them disrespectful, and has set boundaries because of it.
She's not alone in disapproving of a child's playmate. Some parents may not like the way another kid treats their kid. Others may object to how that child's behavior rubs off on their child. But when, and how, should they intervene?
What do parents do when they don’t like their kids’ friends?
Depending on a child's age, there are different developmental approaches parents can take, says licensed clinical professional counselor Kyle Kunkel. Toddlers, for example, typically want to be wanted and are less likely to be able to recognize a behavior in a peer that is not acceptable. Plus, their vocabulary isn’t advanced enough to verbalize all feelings and emotions, so it’s up to the parents to shape any healthy boundaries.
Clinical social worker Amira R. Martin recommends that parents look for the underlying reason behind their wariness of the other child. “Is the other child hitting or biting your child? Do they have more trouble with sharing toys or taking turns? Parents should try to think back to when their child may have done something similar to build empathy and handle the feeling of dislike,” Martin says.
Not all friendship flare-ups merit action. But if one child is constantly being picked on by a peer during playdates, parents have the right to determine the nature of the friendship and how much of an impact they’re willing to let it have on their child. “We have a responsibility as parents to keep our children developmentally safe in relationships and if that means stepping in when we notice our child is being picked on, it is more than appropriate,” Kunkel says. This can mean removing their child from the situation or simply not scheduling playdates with this particular child anymore.
As children get older, determining what to do can become trickier. For school-aged children, Martin advises parents to encourage the child to develop healthy boundaries and assert themselves. If the situation becomes serious, step in — like Samantha did — or notify the other parents and school officials.
In less serious situations, parents should try to encourage the child to handle it on their own by role-playing and practicing what to say in certain situations in the safety of their own home.
Mom Jessica (who also asked to not use her last name) role-played with her 10-year-old son when he was hanging out with a child who was considered the neighborhood bully. She asked her son how he would feel if someone treated him the way his friend was treating other kids. Through practice, her son was ultimately able to speak up for himself and his peers and remove himself from the situation. Jessica feels that the role-playing helped her son feel empowered to make the decision to step away from the friendship.
When parents don’t like their teenagers’ friends
Teenagers have an entirely different dynamic with friendships than younger children. They’re exploring their own identities, breaking from the family culture and have puberty and behavioral changes that come along with that. They’re heavily influenced by their peers, and most are desperate to fit in.
When parents are dealing with not liking their teen’s friends, Martin again suggests exploring where that disdain comes from. Does the parent sense danger? What is making them feel this way? Ideally, parents should allow the teenager to decide on and create their own friendships and let them handle situations on their own as much as possible, she says.
“They are practicing for adulthood and it's best if they practice this under the safety and comfort of their own roof. Encourage them to assert themselves and set boundaries if it's a toxic friend,” Martin says.
Communication is key with teenagers, adds Kunkel, adding that "the most beneficial approach" is "allowing for open communication in the household that provides a safe space for the child to come to the realization on their own that their friendships may not be healthy."
Should parents just let it go?
When it comes to safety, step in. If it’s personal preference, let it go. The first thing for a parent to do in any situation for any age is to determine why they don’t like their child’s friends. Is there actual harm, or are there just personality differences at play? If a child is struggling with a friend, parents should take action if the other kid is being physically or emotionally harmful. If it's simply a personality difference, parents can encourage their child to be more accepting and understanding, says Martin.
“Empathy is essential in these situations. Remember that all children are still learning and growing, even the ones parents may not like. Encourage the child to understand that the other child's behavior may be a result of their own struggles or challenges,” she says.
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